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New Study: Is Google Biased Towards Particular News Sites?

Recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai was called to testify in front of Congress about potential bias in Google’s algorithms. This isn’t the first time Google has been accused of bias and likely will not be the last time. Google alleges there is no bias, yet many Conservatives argue that Google is biased against them.

With our expert knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) and Ahrefs’ massive amounts of data, we wanted to see if we could identify any bias from Google by looking at data for popular Conservative and Liberal news sites. If you’re not familiar with Ahrefs, we’re one of the top SEO tools with seriously big data about the web.

Google makes hundreds of tweaks to its ranking algorithms every year. Most of these go unnoticed because they’re small, but every so often, there’s a big ‘core’ update that impacts a large percentage of search results. As Google tells us the dates of these updates, we figured we could look for bias by studying organic traffic to well-known Liberal and Conservative news sites before and after these updates.

For instance, here’s the estimated organic search traffic to Fox News since 2015. Each line represents a Google Core Update:

However, looking at this data for one website doesn’t tell us much, so we did the same and for the top Conservative and Liberal news sites. We pulled these from AllSides Media Bias Ratings (left and right bias ratings). Here is a list of those websites:

Before we get to the results, I should cover a bit about Ahrefs data. We have hundreds of millions of search terms and large amounts of clickstream data. We use this data to estimate organic traffic by looking at all the different queries people search for, the positions that websites occupy in the search results, and where users click. For the Core Updates, we decided to look at traffic at the start of the Google Core Updates and traffic 14 days later. This is to give Google time to roll out the changes to their different data centers. It also gives us time for our data to reflect the changes.

Our data is normalized in the sense that volumes are averaged over 12 months, so it should account for seasonality mostly, with elections being an exception since they’re not every year. We’re also not going to see newer stories or search topics early on, but we should pick up any popular searches and related clickstream data later.

Results

From 2015 to the present, we see a decline in average traffic for the top news sites in each category during Google Core Update periods.

Conservative total traffic decline: -2.65%

Liberal total traffic decline: ‑1.78%

These numbers are actually very similar and not statistically significant, considering we’re taking into account the traffic of 50 websites and looking at a period of 6 years. Leading up to the last election in 2016, the impact on both categories was roughly equal. Leading up to the 2020 election, if you look at the results from the previous year or so, you’ll see that the impact was roughly equal for both categories, with the most recent update seeming to be better for Conservative websites.

Read more here.

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